Pilates Students' Manual

Mat vs. Reformer Pilates

August 24, 2023 Olivia Bioni Season 6 Episode 8
Pilates Students' Manual
Mat vs. Reformer Pilates
Show Notes Transcript

Some Pilates classes use different pieces of Pilates equipment and two common formats are mat and reformer Pilates. Spoiler: they're both Pilates, but what does each type of class entail, and which one is a better fit for you? Let's find out!

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[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

[00:00:47] Hello. Hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast today. We're going to be talking about mat Pilates and reformer Pilates. The pros and cons of both styles, what they have [00:01:00] in common, what's a little bit different between them and pretty much everything you need to know about Matt and reformer Pilates. That is the name of the game today. 

[00:01:11] If you're listening to the episode to hear which is better, I am not going to give you a clear cut answer on that because both styles have benefits. Both styles have things that are absolutely incredible about them. I think a lot of what it comes down to is personal preference. And so if you really love reformer Pilates, or you really love doing mat Pilates, that is fine. That is valid. That is reason enough to do it. But today we're going to be talking about what each of these styles of Pilates entails, and then you can decide for yourself which one is a better fit for you, for your budget, for your time, for any of those things.

[00:01:57] As far as similarities go, they're [00:02:00] both Pilates. And by that, I mean, you're going to be moving in a very similar way and you're going to be doing similar, if not the same exercises, but one of them happens on a piece of equipment known as the reformer, and one of them's happening on the mat. The methodology, however, is the same, the approach to movement, the concentration, the control, the focus, your intention, however you want to characterize it, that is the same in both because Pilates is a system of movement. And now we're just talking about what piece of equipment you're moving on. 

[00:02:38] As I said sometimes the exercises are exactly the same: looking at you, swimming. Looking at you, rocking. Sometimes the exercises are a little bit different, but the quality of the movement's the same, the shape that you're making is the same. And you will get results. You will be able to meet your goals regardless of [00:03:00] which style of Pilates you follow, especially if you're working with a teacher who is helping you establish goals and then meet those goals as well. Regardless of how you're doing Pilates, I think having a teacher guiding you and prioritizing doing the things that you want to do is really helpful, but you can do that with or without fancy equipment, for sure. 

[00:03:27] As far as mat Pilates goes, there are tons of pros for mat Pilates, namely you only need a mat and most of us have a mat from either yoga or other fitness ideas, and if you don't have a mat, a towel will do. You can do it anywhere. It's easy to pack for. If you go on vacation, you can take it with you. You can do it at home. You could do it with a virtual kind of setup where you're taking an online class because you've already [00:04:00] got what you need to do it. 

[00:04:02] There's a lot of budget pros to mat, to be honest, because even if you decide to get some fancy pants, you know, magic circle or resistance bands, that's going to cost you tens of dollars, not thousands of dollars like, uh, reformer equipment. And that's U. S. dollars, so like, reformers can be up to 10, 000 U. S. dollars, I've seen, and that's a lot of an investment. I'm not gonna say it's not a worthwhile investment, but that is a big upfront investment, whereas in mat Pilates, you need a mat and yourself, and you're set to jet. 

[00:04:36] Group classes tend to be less expensive. You can find them at Pilates studios. Sometimes yoga studios also use the space for other types of mat classes. Pilates is one of them. At big box gyms where you can take group fitness classes, you can definitely find mat Pilates there. I actually teach a class for the University of Chicago. [00:05:00] Like mat Pilates is much more accessible in terms of finding a place to do it.

[00:05:04] I think people who are hardcore mat Pilates friends might say that mat Pilates is harder than reformer Pilates. And that's an opinion and that's fine. Um, I do think that mat Pilates can be harder than reformer Pilates if you are a person who has any difficulty getting up and down off of the floor. Because the big pro of, you know, just needing a mat is a huge pro, unless getting down on the ground is something that's difficult or impossible for you to do at this stage in your life, or if you've got things going on in your body. In that way, mat Pilates can be very inaccessible when the floor is really far away or really hard to get down to. 

[00:05:47] Reformers are oftentimes elevated, or they come with legs, or you can purchase legs as an add on, that lifts them off of the ground. And so it's much more accessible if you're having [00:06:00] a mobility issue. 

[00:06:03] As far as the difficulty of the exercises, I don't think you can say one is more difficult than the other. If you look at Joseph Pilates' original Contrology mat work, as seen in Return to Life, if you look at the original Reformer exercises, they are both extremely difficult. I don't think you can say, oh, well, this exercise is harder. Like, there might be exercises that you struggle with in both of them, um, but objectively, they are very difficult, both of them. 

[00:06:33] What makes mat Pilates challenging and why I think you may have heard that mat Pilates is harder than reformer Pilates potentially, is when you are doing mat Pilates, or any other body weight exercise, you are moving a hundred percent of your body weight against a hundred percent of gravity all of the time. That can be difficult because moving our [00:07:00] entire body weight is hard and If it isn't hard the way you're doing it- if you think, I think we talked on this podcast a little while back about pushups and starting with an incline pushup where your hands are higher than your feet.

[00:07:15] So maybe you're doing a pushup at a wall and then slowly decreasing that angle until your feet and hands are in the same line. And then eventually elevating your pushup so that your feet are getting higher, which is putting more load in the shoulders. And I can tell you, I cannot do a pushup in a handstand like that is a hundred percent of my body weight against a hundred percent of gravity.

[00:07:37] Technically, like you could get to a point where you can do that. But for the vast majority of us, moving just your body weight and varying inclines is going to be plenty of challenge. 

[00:07:51] What makes mat Pilates challenging in that regard, using all of your body weight against all of gravity, all of the time, [00:08:00] it's also a limiting factor because you can't move less than your body weight. And even what I was talking about here, you know, inclining your pushup, you might need to add some things onto it. Maybe a wall, maybe a counter, maybe a box, maybe yoga blocks, something, like you might need to add things into it to help you change how much of your body weight you're dealing with.

[00:08:22] And then the other thing is we can't change gravity. I mean, maybe you're doing mat Pilates and like a zero gravity chamber. Maybe that's you. But it is very likely that we're dealing with Earth's gravity all the time, and we can't limit it. So we can't make gravity less, but we also can't make it more. You can't lift or move more than your body weight, because it is just your body weight. There's no other external thing that you're working with. So there will be a point where you have mastered body weight exercise and you will need to add some additional load if that's the strength game you're going to.

[00:08:57] As I said, this is [00:09:00] at the end of the spectrum of wildness. Um, you might do body weight exercise your entire life and be totally fine um, without any external load, but if you want less load than your body, if you want more load than your body, you're going to need to add something into it. And reformer Pilates does just that. 

[00:09:20] More on that and the pros and cons of reformer Pilates coming up after the break.

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[00:10:31] So that's that on mat. Uh, reformer Pilates friends who are diehard Reformer Pilates fans will also say that it is harder, better, faster, stronger, whatever, compared to other forms of exercise or other types of Pilates equipment. And that's fine. Again, entitled to your opinion. You can love it and do it and that's fantastic.

[00:10:53] There are some pros to doing Reformer Pilates. That namely the ground is closer to [00:11:00] you. A lot of reformers are elevated. There are some clinical reformers that are really elevated or things like Cadillacs where the mat is like elevated off the ground. Some Cadillacs convert to reformers, which is really handy. Cause then you have elevated mat and elevated reformer, but it is a massive investment financially to get those bigger pieces of equipment. Even less expensive reformers that might be using resistance bands instead of springs are going to run you five, six hundred U. S. dollars. And as I said, it can go up to 10, 000 and then shipping is an arm and a leg. I can attest to that. And I have a tiny reformer. 

[00:11:43] Huge pro to the reformer is that accessibility component because the ground is closer to you. The exercise is closer to you. It can meet you where you are mobility wise. And as I shared a bit in the limitations of mat Pilates, load, [00:12:00] which could be body weight in mat Pilates, uh, load in reformer Pilates is body weight plus springs. We can adjust it so that you are out of gravity in some way. Sometimes the springs act as gravity. We do this exercise called footwork where you're lying on the bed and your feet are on the footbar. You push out and you come in and that is however hard the springs are like how heavy, however heavy the springs are. And if you were to do a squat vertical, it's gravity and it's your body weight and I can't really make it a ton less than that. So gravity and load are adjustable. 

[00:12:36] And maybe another great example of that is if you take something like one leg circle on the mat where you're lying on your back, one leg to the ceiling, you draw a circle on the ceiling with your lifted leg. On the reformer, we can put that lifted leg in a strap. So you've got a strap on your foot and that makes the circle harder to draw. When you're pushing against the spring, you're [00:13:00] pushing down more than the weight of your leg because there's this spring resistance on it. And then also less than the weight of your leg when the springs are assisting you in that movement.

[00:13:11] So there's this fun little double edged sword of reformer Pilates that sometimes those springs help support you and sometimes they provide load that is more than what you would be able to do with your body alone. 

[00:13:25] I also love personally in reformer Pilates that you can do the same exercise and change the springs and do a completely different exercise while doing the same exercise. So if you're doing something like a kneeling plank on the reformer, where your knees are on the carriage, soles of the feet against the shoulder blocks, hands on the foot bar in a plank position, you're pushing the carriage out and in with straight arms. If you put heavy springs on it, it makes that carriage harder to move, so it's a pushing exercise. It's a vertical push. And if you make really light [00:14:00] springs, now it's a pulling exercise. The carriage goes out like a dream, but bringing it back in requires a lot more strength on your part. So I do love the way that you can change the focus of an exercise by changing the load in the exercise. And it's really easy to do on the reformer. 

[00:14:18] Some cons about reformer Pilates, as I've mentioned, the cost of the equipment, if you are purchasing it for yourself is prohibitive. It is expensive. Even if you aren't buying the equipment, finding a studio that's near you at a price point that matches what you are able to afford with a schedule of classes that are at times that are convenient for you. There's just a lot, although the schedule of times is the same, I guess, for everywhere. 

[00:14:48] But if you were going to do virtual classes like you could do for mat Pilates, um, you can do virtual reformer classes. I take a virtual reformer class, but you have to have your own reformer. And so [00:15:00] there we go with that massive upfront investment again. And that can stop a lot of people from being able to take advantage of reformer Pilates because classes tend to be more expensive. It's just all of Reformer Pilates just happens, I feel like, at a higher price point than mat. 

[00:15:21] Ultimately, you may be listening to this episode and already know I'm a mat Pilates person through and through, that Reformer is nonsense, or maybe you're a diehard Reformer fan, and whatever to the mat. It's fine. I, as you see in the Instagram post about this episode, like, why not both? They actually work really well together, and what is a limitation in one is more possible in the other potentially. And they're both great. 

[00:15:52] I love the travel factor of mat that if I go on vacation and I just pack my travel mat with me that I can always do some [00:16:00] form of movement and stay happy in my body while I'm on the go. Um, but I also love, love, love the reformer and probably spend more time teaching reformer than teaching mat. Although I do teach some private clients who are straight up mat clients and that's what we play around with. And there's tons to do in both. I don't think that one's better than the other. I think if you can do both amazing.

[00:16:26] And if you have a preference, that's the most important because the type of exercise you do doesn't matter. And I know that this is a Pilates podcast and we talk about how awesome Pilates is all the time, but in truth, the type of exercise you do is less important than the fact that you consistently exercise and you meet your physical activity guidelines and you stay healthy in your body and you feel good in your body. 

[00:16:51] So if you have a preference, lean into that. This is not saying that one is better. This is saying the best one is the best one for you. [00:17:00] I also think that doing the same exercise multiple ways with, you know, different variables attached to them. Like the reformers got this moving platform. So we've got, you know, new coordination, balance challenges. The mat's got again, a hundred percent of your body weight, which is tough to move around. You can take advantage of both of those things and doing that exercise more than one way only adds variety, spice, strength, goodness into your life. 

[00:17:35] Big thank you to all of the supporters of the podcast. Thank you so much for your contributions, your continued support of the podcast project. The August newsletter is out and I'm so excited for this next round of coffee chats. I'm looking forward to supporting you wherever you are in your Pilates journey as a teacher, as a student. Um, I am here for you. I'm so looking forward to [00:18:00] that. I hope you have a great couple weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.

[00:18:13] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts. I hope to see you next episode. Until next [00:19:00] time.